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BMW 330d As clear as black and white The 330d coupé is part of a lineage of BMWs that began with the 1500, and expresses the mood of the times; while the 123d coupé tries to recapture the glory days of the 2002.
Jack Yan

Nigel Dunn

The spirit of 2002

No, not the year: Jack Yan tries to find if any of BMW’s diesel coupés recapture the essence of the company’s famed 2002 range of the 1970s
PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE AUTHOR AND NIGEL DUNN

 



Jack Yan


Above BMW’s 330d oozes with style without needing to shout. Above right Specify the 330d with the M-package, and it will suggest more aggression than the 3·0-litre diesel delivers. Bottom The BMW 123d feels like a modern interpretation of the 2002 Tii.

 

WHEN I POSTED an old photograph of a BMW 2002 to my Facebook, I received a lot of comments. A Californian friend who used to own one, saying that the essence had been lost in all but the latest BMW 1er-Reihe. A German friend whose family had one in her childhood. Another who remembered the pleasure he got from driving it. There’s arguably no other early BMW that elicits such responses, either because the 1970s now seem far enough away for everyone to look back at the era fondly, or because the 2002 was truly a great car, head and shoulders above the rest.
   It was certainly a timeless car. The lines could be traced back to the BMW 1500 of the 1960s—a.k.a. the car that turned a failing German manufacturer around. Had it not been for the 1500, BMW might have wound up a subsidiary of some other German firm. It delivered a formula that BMW is known for, which is the same formula that put Jaguar on the map with the Mark II and more recently Subaru with the Impreza: a compact saloon, with an excellent, high-performance engine.
   The 2002 Tii and 2002 Turbo were the pinnacle of that line, an accessible sporting saloon and a way-out sports car with a newfangled turbocharger. BMW followed up the Neue Klasse 02s with the 3er-Reihe, which has a similarly mythical history if one looks at the first 323i and M3, but it doesn’t have the same fondness.
   But the new 330d is the successor to this line, a two-door coupé—BMW abandoned the saloon tag for the two-door a couple of decades ago—that has a stylish, low roof, the Hofmeister-knick in the C-pillar, and the pedigree of those overpowered compact cars.
   Except these days, it’s not so compact. Nor is it overpowered. The white 330d is a diesel, with a turbocharger, which means it delivers 245 PS without issue, but the power comes on stream gently if that’s the way you drive. Be more senseless and the power is there, but it makes very little fuss about it. Like the 335d saloon which Lucire tested last year, the BMW wears its claim to Efficient Dynamics proudly. BMW’s system of using braking energy to charge the battery and being as kind to the environment as possible means the 330d emits 151 g/km of carbon dioxide. In the 2010s, an overrevving coupé just seems out of touch, and so much of the car is geared to reinforcing the mantra of efficiency as possible.
   On that note, the 330d coupé was returning roughly 37 mpg around town, with a great deal of slow motoring. I noted that it bettered some far smaller cars from the 1990s. Unlike the larger 5er, there’s no way to alter the analogue l/100 km gauge on the clear and functional dashboard to Imperial, though many of the usual sat-nav and phone functions were available in the Idrive set-up.
   The driving position is excellent, as one can expect from any BMW 3er. Handling still outclasses its Audi and Mercedes-Benz rivals, with a safe, rear-wheel-drive push—with one knowing that there is more potential beyond the limit of the traction control if one wanted to switch it off.
   But, the important question must be asked in a fashion title: how stylish is the conveyance from A to B? In short, very.
   Even if one did not specify the M package, which gave our test car extra panache and an outwardly upscale look, there’s no shortage of style from the 330d.
   While it’s questionable whether the 1500 or 2002 spirit truly lives on, you do get a great sense of pride driving the 330d. I take the point that the regular saloon has become common to the point of invisibility, but there’s still something special about that lowered roofline, taking us back to those 2002 days. But the high-revving “vroom” factor that was once there has been replaced with a turn-of-the-decade sensibility about careful energy usage and efficiency.
   The 330d is a coupé for our times, blending the best of fuel economy and style. In another 30 years’ time, this may be the sort our children will talk about: remember when BMWs were efficient, sensible and stylish, rather than being overpowered on a hydrogen fuel cell?
   But for those seeking the sort of punch that the 2002 Tii delivered, it’s the 135i (also tested last year) that will deliver.
   And not, as we discovered, the 123d.
   Again, when specified with the M option package, the 123d is every bit the little brother of the 135i. The outside observer will easily make a connection between the blistering 306 PS 135i and the 123d. He might think it’s a Q-car and dare not take you on at the lights.
   Not that it’s lacking in the power department, either: 204 PS, 400 Nm of torque. It’s the diesel engine that lacks that wonderful sound, even though, in this lighter car, the power feels more urgent than in the 330d. The 123d is a simpler car, without the pop-up Idrive of the 3 on our test car, which means that much more of your concentration is kept on the driving experience.
   Being on the same chassis as the 135i, it’s a capable handler as well as a decent cruiser, and, behind the wheel, hits more of the sweet spots in the driving experience than the 330d. Those seeking something closer to the 2002s of old could do worse, and getting 42 mpg is nothing to be sneezed at.
   Even styling-wise, it will be instantly familiar to the 2002 lovers. The lower half of the body still apes the 1er saloon, with its “flame surfacing”, albeit with aggressive wheel arches, but the upper half is a tidier, modern interpretation of what had gone before. But it’s almost too upright in the 2010s context: in an era when even humble hatchbacks like the Opel Astra and the Renault Mégane have sporty counterparts with sleeker rooflines.
   What we really need, then, is a car that combines the sleek, pleasurable lines of the larger 3, with the satisfying driving experience and economy of the 1.
   At a guess, it’s the 335d coupé: a car we haven’t yet tested, though we have sampled the saloon. You feel the extra 41 PS in the 335d, though it comes with a 24 g/km penalty on the carbon emissions. Drive it carefully enough, however, and the environmentally conscious side of you might still be satiated. And should you put your foot down, the power will come with a little more glory, on what remains one of the best chassis in the compact executive market. •

 


Nigel Dunn

 

You get a great sense of pride driving the 330d: there’s still something special about
that lowered roofline, taking us back to those 2002 days. But the
high-revving “vroom” factor that was once there has been replaced
with a turn-of-the-decade sensibility about careful energy usage
and efficiency

 

 


Jack Yan

 

 

 


 


Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

 

 

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From issue 26 of Lucire

 

 

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